Main Menu
Join Undercurrent on Facebook

The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975 | |
For Divers since 1975
The Private, Exclusive Guide for Serious Divers Since 1975
"Best of the Web: scuba tips no other
source dares to publish" -- Forbes
September 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
What's this?

A Realistic Video Game Based Underwater

not the usual violent, action-packed production

from the September, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

"Abzu takes place underwater, where you can explore super-cool ocean environments that abound with sea creatures, plants, and sunken ruins, scuba-diver style. There are no timers or other challenges -- you're just submerged into settings that you can swim around to your heart's content. And yes, you can interact with the sea life you encounter." So says the publicity.

But what is Abzu? Well, in the world of video gaming, where extreme violence appears to be the norm, this is a game for PCs, Playstation 4 and NVIDIA's Shield devices produced in the Giant Squid development studio that actually reflects what every diver appreciates about the underwater world.

Aquatic-based video games tend to be inspired by movies more than reality, a flaw that quickly surfaces when a player with diving experience grimaces, such as being harassed by thugs in orange rubber wetsuits every two minutes. Happily then, Giant Squid, the Santa Monica-based studio, has sidestepped Hollywood by delivering an experience that focuses on exploration. In choosing the name Abzu, Giant Squid has implied reference to ancient cultures and legends.

You first find yourself floating on the surface in some curious free-diving gear, and are led through a short tutorial that teaches you how to orient yourself to your new surroundings. The main character is intentionally ambiguous, and having played the game to its conclusion, I still couldn't tell you much about him. This is by design, however, as the game takes you on a journey to be absorbed rather than rushed as you travel from one compartment of water to the next. There are no timers, no real dangers; you simply exist as the underwater life exists with you.

The protagonist is evidently breath-hold diving, although you never need to worry about thoracic squeeze or resurfacing for air (the reasons for which become clearer later on). The moment-to-moment experiences are of finning around encountering unnaturally disparate species in the same pocket of water. The studio has created an idealized diving environment that aggregates all the best locations, rather than portraying a singular one. Most of the game is spent interacting with magic blue holes, riding on large fish or sea-bound mammals, solving simple puzzles that open up new areas to explore, and even meditating on totem-like shark/dog statues.

From both the visual and sonic perspective, it's hard not to be impressed by the quality of presentation. The graphics are willfully stylized, a choice the studio must have made to permit the enormous numbers of fish that are on-screen at once. Their movements and behavior are incredibly distinct and believable: You might be staring at a trumpet fish only as it bags a little sea bream right before your very eyes. The swirling schools of giant trevally are frankly jaw-dropping.

All the while, a vivid sound design and a haunting music score elevate the overall experience to something special. As the journey progresses, elements of a story unfold -- although the why of this tale is very much up to the viewer's interpretation, much like the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In a more straightforward affair, this might be an issue, but in the case of Abzu, it seems to fit. There can be an otherworldly sense of mystery to our oceans, and this game captures that in a masterful way.

Abzu is available for PC from and for PlayStation 4 from It may make a novel gift for someone who likes both video games and scuba diving.

Rob Bantin is a games software writer with a family connection to the world of scuba.

I want to get all the stories! Tell me how I can become an Undercurrent Online Member and get online access to all the articles of Undercurrent as well as thousands of first hand reports on dive operations world-wide

Find in  

| Home | Online Members Area | My Account | Login | Join |
| Travel Index | Dive Resort & Liveaboard Reviews | Featured Reports | Recent Issues | Back Issues |
| Dive Gear Index | Health/Safety Index | Environment & Misc. Index | Seasonal Planner | Blogs | Free Articles | Book Picks | News |
| Special Offers | RSS | FAQ | About Us | Contact Us | Links |

Copyright © 1996-2023 Undercurrent (
3020 Bridgeway, Ste 102, Sausalito, Ca 94965
All rights reserved.